The National League trimmed the list of cities in the running for expansion franchises to six yesterday, and among the survivors were investors who want to own baseball teams in Washington and three Florida cities.
In an announcement that ended the bids of a few cities, but held no major surprises, the NL's expansion committee revealed a short list of contenders from which two expansion teams will be selected to begin play in 1993.
The list had investors from Buffalo, N.Y., and Denver, as well as Washington and the Florida finalists -- St. Petersburg-Tampa, Orlando and Miami. Officially out of the hunt are groups representing Phoenix, Sacramento, Calif., Nashville, Tenn., and Charlotte, N.C.
The NL's timetable calls for the expansion teams to be awarded sometime before September, with a $95 million price that reflects the skyrocketing value of many professional sports franchises. The last time Major League Baseball expanded, in 1977, the cost of a new team was $7 million.
Doug Danforth, chairman of the Pittsburgh Pirates and a member of the NL Expansion Committee, said that the investors still in contention meet the criteria for ownership, including having the money to operate expansion teams successfully.
"All prospective ownership groups on the short list are the most qualified in terms of financial stability, significant community identification and long-term commitment to a baseball club and their community," Danforth said.
If Washington gets a team, its lead owner apparently will be real-estate developer John E. Akridge III, whose group, Washington Metropolitan Baseball, was selected by the expansion committee. Also, it probably would play, for a long, long time, in a refurbished RFK Stadium, home of the Washington Senators until the team departed for Arlington, Texas, after the 1971 season.
Last week, Washington Metropolitan Baseball and the D.C. Armory Board reached agreement on a 45-year lease at the stadium. The agreement, which calls for stadium renovations of between $35 million and $40 million, is subject to approval by the D.C. City Council.
A Washington team -- particularly one that plays at RFK Stadium -- could affect the Baltimore Orioles, who, according to team estimates, draw as much as 25 percent of their attendance from metropolitan Washington. When the Orioles move from Memorial Stadium to their new ballpark at Camden Yards in 1992, the distance between home plates at RFK Stadium and the Orioles' home park will be less than 50 miles.
Orioles officials have said they aren't trying to influence expansion events. Team president Larry Lucchino repeated that yesterday and said he had "no specific reaction" to the cities selected so far, except to say "many of these cities we anticipated were likely to be on the final list."
However, there have been questions about the Orioles' motives and actions. In August, a group attempting to secure an expansion franchise for northern Virginia charged that Orioles principal owner Eli S. Jacobs was working to undermine its efforts.
Specifically, leaders of the group said that Jacobs had discouraged investors from joining them. The Orioles denied the charge.
Lucchino, asked if the Orioles have a rooting interest in the selection process, said: "We can't make any comment on what the Orioles' position is. We've said our position is one of neutrality, and we mean neutrality."
Approval by three-fourths of the owners in the NL, and a majority of those in the American League, is required for a franchise to be awarded.
The Buffalo proposal accepted by the committee was by the Rich family, owners of the city's American Association franchise.
The Denver bid that was accepted was from the Colorado Baseball Partnership of Stephen E. Ehrhart, John Antonucci, Michael I. Monus, Michael Nicklous and Cary S. Taraji.
The Miami group is South Florida Big League Baseball, headed by H. Wayne Huizenga.
Orlando Sunrays Pro Baseball Team and Richard DeVos got the nod for that city.
Sunshine State Baseball Associates, composed of Sidney Kohl, Allen D. Kohl, Stephen W. Porter and S. Joel Schur, got the potential St. Petersburg-Tampa franchise.